Friday, December 11, 2015

But About that Day or that Hour! (Mark 13:32-37) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Long after the sun had set on this year's Boston Marathon, the official clock turned off, and the crowds had all but gone home, 39 year old Venezuelan, Maickel Melamed crossed the finish line around 4 A.M.  It was 20 hours after the race began. What made Maickel's race significant is that he suffers from muscular dystrophy, which meant he didn't so much run the race as walk it. In reflecting on his accomplishment, Maickel stated: "In any marathon, you have to know why you're doing it.  Because in the last mile, the marathon will ask you."  Maickel's motivation was to honor Boston Children's Hospital where he was treated as a child.

The New Testament compares the Christian life to a race, much like a marathon.  It's a race which requires perseverance and endurance.  In those times of struggle in life's race, we need to know why we are running and for whom we are running.  For believers, Christ is the one we look to; the one we run to, the one we run for.  Christ's impending return at the end of the race motivates us to keep going.

Yes in life we often find ourselves waiting for something.  For example, military spouses and their children wait for their husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, to return from deployment.   Sometimes we are impatient and excited and can't wait for something to happen.  Sometimes we await with patient optimism and hope.  Other times we are fearful and anxious, are pessimistic and gloomy.   How do you look to the future?

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent.   Advent looks forward to a bright new day. Advent is about the future, and that coming future may be much nearer than we can imagine.  Advent  declares a powerful truth -  the future of this world does not belong to the devil, to sinful human beings, to evil, to any political system, to any nation, to any dictator, or to radical terrorist groups.  No.   Advent declares this truth, the future belongs solely to God.

What does the Bible say about the future?  Christ is coming! Jesus is coming!   A biblical word which captures the spirit of Advent and which ought to be in our Christian vocabulary is Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word.  It means “Come Lord” or “Our Lord, Comes”.  It is both a prayer and an affirmation of faith which Christians down through the ages have held on to.  “Maranatha, come Lord, our Lord comes.”   I'm sure you appreciate being able to leave church today knowing how to speak some Aramaic.

Jesus said: Watch the coming future with confidence, with hope, with assurance, wait with patience!   Jesus said watch out for false prophets, but he also said watch for the coming of the Son of Man.  Jesus also said watch out for wars, famines, pestilences, and natural disasters, but he also said wait for a beautiful new day.

Sometimes I gaze out at our world and fear grips me.  How about you? I wonder how will it all end?   We look with fear, with anxiety, sometimes even with despair about tomorrow.   But as people of faith, we need to remember who holds the future, whom the future belongs to, and whose plans and purpose will ultimately prevail.

I believe in the truth of the advent of Jesus.   Why?  Because Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world, the Word incarnate proclaimed it!  Jesus says: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”

I believe because this truth is attested to in the Bible which is the unique, authoritative and inspired Word of God!   We read in the N.T. In II Timothy:  “The sacred writings are to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient equipped for every good work.”  Many chapters and books of the Bible are devoted to this promise of Christ's final coming and bringing the world to an end.

Third, I believe because the Biblical and Christian understanding of history promises it!   The ancient Greeks believed that the world was eternal, it always existed, there was no beginning or end.   Conversely, our Judeo/Christian tradition declares that only God is eternal.  That before God created the universe, there was only emptiness.  There was no cosmos, no matter, no organisms, no gases, no chemicals, no protozoans, no cells, no atoms, no energy, no life.

Our Judeo/Christian tradition and the scriptures declare that God created the world out of nothing.   The world is moving toward an end time, to the destination which the sovereign God has appointed, when God’s final purpose for His world will be realized.   Life is not meaningless, but meaningful, life is not without any purpose, but has a purpose, life is not aimless, but has a destination.   There is one divine, far-off event toward which the whole creation is moving; the final triumph of God over sin and evil.

Fourth, I believe because the bible promises that the day is coming when justice shall reign.   The injustice we witness today is an outrage.  We see horrific acts of injustice by governments, by dictators, by radical Islamic terrorists, by murderers, where innocent people suffer and die, where people are oppressed and persecuted.

We long for justice in our hearts, but that longing eludes us.  Author N. T. Wright in his book "Putting the World to Rights" tells this story:  I had a dream the other night, a powerful and interesting dream. And the really frustrating thing is that I can't remember all that it was about. I had a flash of it as I woke up, enough to make me think how extraordinary and meaningful it was; and then it was gone… Our passion for justice often seems like that. We dream the dream of justice. We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently…and then we wake up and come back to reality.

The Bible says - Do not despair!  God is holy.  God is sovereign. God is righteous. There will be an accounting, a day of reckoning, a day of justice.  You reap what you sow.   In the O.T. The prophet Amos cries out:  “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”  The prophet Micah preaches:  “God has told you O man what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

Jesus’ judgment will be a universal, over all the living and the dead.  God will judge humanity’s behavior, good and bad, moral and immoral, righteous and unrighteous.  God will judge how much light humanity has about God and morality and what we have done with that faith and knowledge.   And unlike our imperfect judicial system, which is flawed, God’s judgment is perfect.

In the N.T. The books of Acts says:  "God has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."   Jesus will be the judge.

Finally, I believe in Christ’s coming because God loves His creation. God is a loving God, a forgiving God, a merciful God, slow to anger.     God loves the world and the people he created.   God will judge the world and purge the world, but God will not destroy it, God will not annihilate it.  I believe contemporary preachers of only doom and gloom are wrong.   God will renew the world. God will set the world right. God will restore the world. God will re-create a new and glorious world.  At Christ's return, the world as we know it will come to an end, and in its place, a new and transformed universe will be established forever.

Advent means you must keep watch and remember why you are running.  A few weeks ago we had our 2 &1/2 year old grandson Wyatt at our house for a few days.  He sleeps in his own room.   One early morning, about 5:30, I felt something brush against my cheek.  I was still half asleep.  I started to dose off and I felt something brush against my nose.  I started to wake up and opened my eyes.  Wyatt had his face about an inch from mine, was gently touching my face with his finger and said -” Wake up grandpa.”

Yes, wake up to the Advent of Jesus.  Jesus is coming.   But about that day or that hour no one knows, only God.  May we wait with hope, with confidence, with courage, with strength, with faith, because Jesus' return may be much sooner than we expect.   It may be tomorrow.  And when Jesus returns, a new indescribable, unimaginable, and spectacular world will be established forever.

I close with our Lord's inspiring vision from the Book of Revelation:   See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  The home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them.” Amen!

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